Into space

John Neylon heads to BMG Art to look at new work by Gail English, Nona Burden and Marijana Tadic.

The aesthetic choices that artists exercise never cease to amaze. So also the preference for materials. And form (be it 2D or 3D) for that matter. This parallel showing of work by Gail English, Nona Burden and Marijana Tadic is a classic example. Burden and English are the painters and Tadic the sculptor. But is it as simple as that? Since notions of “sculpture in the expanded field”, courtesy of the American critic Rosalind Krauss, have been doing the rounds since the late 1970s the demarcation between sculpture and everything else (including ‘pictorial’ art) has become most unclear. Even the recent re-emergence of light as a ‘thing’ in contemporary practice has been shaped by critical interpretation, which emphasises its sculptural properties. Much of this has to do with a renewed focus on art as a social transaction rather than a static ‘someone looks at a work of art’ set up. To look at any work of art today tends to involve more self-awareness of response, which incorporates not only imagination and prior knowledge, but also physical response as the eye weighs up spatial depth and the feet move in response to the brain telling them to get the body in closer or higher to check things out. From this perspective all art is sculptural. And each of these three artists is a space explorer. English grew up on a farm and continues to live in a rural setting on the NSW coast. Lucky her you say. But, from a creative perspective, that doesn’t amount to anything unless one does the work to synthesise lived experiences into art expression. These paintings have internal scaffolding, which allows gestural passages to float freely. Their palette is infused with the ochres, pinks, warms and cools of remembered and observed paddocks, hillsides, roads and skies. Just enough looseness to be beguiling and sensuous. Just enough rigour in the underlying compositional cues to imply self-awareness and control. For anyone who yearns to return to that quintessential country road experience, they take you there. Burden’s still-lifes occupy notional spaces as tight as a tabletop or mantle piece. We are in the aesthetic lab here, where every gesture or nuance of tone influences everything else. The dividends of choosing to work within such tight confines are really paying off for Burden. Where tonal exchanges once enlivened minimal arrangements of fruit and ceramic vessels, gesture and discreet references to ornamentation have been added to the mix. That and exchanges of tactile distinctions between opacity and translucency, dullness and reflection. The sombre tonality, faded flowers and uneasy alliances of assorted bottles, vessels and crockery, edge these images with a tristesse that could be associated with later Rococo painting and the still-lifes of the French artist Antoine Watteau in particular. In this sense these paintings are slightly out of space and time and the more interesting for it. Tadic’s finely calibrated sense of structural design is showcased against BMG’s expansive white spaces. For newcomers to the artist’s practice this selection introduces forms that have defined the artis’ts more recent exploration of themes linked to metaphoric life journeys, cultural dislocation and renewal. The ‘Birds nest’ (Where is Home series) perched within notional houses, is one of the artist’s most compelling motifs – allied as it is to the symbolic properties of gathering and weaving in referencing migrant experience. Linked to this are the layered forms such as Reversing Magnetic Flip, which quote natural sedimentary and layering processes to metaphoric ends. The delicate touch of employing acupuncture needles resembling groups of refugees trailing into the distance, in combination with raked lighting, looks to be a break-out strategy that could take Tadic’s practice into more nuanced and distinctive directions. It may be time to leave the nest. Gail English Seasons, Nona Burden Still and Marijana Tadic The one and the many BMG Art Continues until Saturday, June 6 bmgart.com.au Caption: Nona Burden, Autumn 2015, oil on canvas

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